A review of the watch-ness of the Apple Watch, by a longtime watch-wearer and Apple product user who got to play with the Watch for 10 minutes at an Apple Store today

I went to the Apple Store in Soho today mostly to check out the Watch from the perspective of a watch-wearer.

I’ve been buying first-generation Apple products since the 1990s, so buying the Watch is sort of a fait accompli for me. The product is apparently a personal one with a learning curve, so outside of toying with it for a minute, I didn’t try too hard to use it.

But that’s because this is a different kind of purchase—it’s fashion, it’s luxury, it’s apparel and accessories, it’s 30 different default combinations of Watch and Watch Sport sizes, colors and finishes. From that angle, it’s a far more complicated product to order than just picking the amount of memory for your iPhone, and choosing white, black or gold on the back.

Which is why I shouldn’t have been surprised when I was asked to make an appointment to view the Watch with a specialist. The front of the Apple Store now resembles a Tourneau: lots of product quietly tucked away, available for sampling only when handled in a 1:1 customer interaction. There are plenty of watches on display for tinkering with the UI, but to try one on, one gets personal assistance—and security oversight.

It took Apple all of two minutes to get me to a specialist, who had gotten to the store at 4 a.m. and was understandably not in a real salesy mode. She let me play with every style of watch, though, and helpfully showed me how certain physical components worked. My impressions:

  • For anyone who thinks about fashion, it will be hard to buy the Sport over the Watch. The stainless steel looks, well, like stainless steel, polished to perfection and with the right heft for a watch of importance. The Sport is fine for casual and sport usage; it looks plenty nice on its own. But it’s a matter of context. The Sport won’t look quite right under a suit-sleeve or French cuff. I have long worn a watch for fashion purposes, and I’m going to be hard-pressed not to pay the extra $200 for the stainless.
  • There’s a substantial difference in the screen real estate, and thus areas for interaction, between the 38mm and 42mm models. As someone whose thumbs often miss the letter targets on the iPhone keyboard, I’m glad I can buy the larger one and have it fit my wrist.
  • I really love the basic sport band. The material looks and feels terrific. It’s soft and comfortable on the wrist, although clasping it will take some getting used to. I thought it looked nice enough to carry the watch face in style.
  • The leather bands didn’t do much for me. Mind you, I’m not really a leather-watch-strap guy, historically, so I didn’t expect them to.
  • The metal bands were really disappointing to me. The Milanese band, which I’ve long admired on Skagens, was thin and narrow, and I could almost see my wrist through the gaps in the mesh. The link bracelet, meanwhile, reminded me more of a $30 Casio than my Breitling, which is not the impression a thousand-dollar watch should give.

This last point is where Apple’s pivot is going to really have to accelerate in the coming year or two. The craftsmanship behind these accessories is obvious. However, it’s a technical attention to detail at work, and not yet an emotional one. I’d love to have a handsome link watch from Apple; perhaps I will wind up with one through a third-party watch band seller. In the process, though, I came away a little disappointed with the fashion side of the Apple Watch.

That said, the product is an exciting one; the screen is gorgeous, the tapping mechanism borders on cute, and the innovations to come in the next couple of years is too great to ignore. Check this space again come summer when I can report on what it’s like to own one.

Update: “Trying on the Apple Watch” mirrors my in-store experience pretty well and captures some of what I tweeted in the moment but missed in my write-up. Apple doesn’t know how to do personal, wearable luxury yet, and it’s going to be a little while before they get the rhythms just right. In the meantime, we’re stuck with non-functional watches and salespeople that lean toward geeky technical expertise rather than the emotional, tangible experience in which a watch purchase traditionally relies.